Research Themes

IOSI supports both applied and fundamental research, including proof-of-concept, with a clear line-of-sight towards technology commercialization in oil sands mining operations, in the four research themes: Extraction, Online Instrumentation for Oil Sands, Tailings, and Value-Added Products from TSRU Tailings.



Various aspects of both water-based and non-aqueous extraction (NAE) of bitumen from oil sands.


  • Improve bitumen liberation and recovery in hydrotransport (HT) + primary separation cell with an emphasis on high fines ores.
  • Improve fundamental understanding of slurry conditioning in HT.
  • Improve fundamental understanding of caustic / surfactants (naturally occurring or additives) on operability (e.g., liberation, flotation) and bitumen quality (e.g., TAN, Ca-naphthenates).
  • Methods to reduce TAN, calcium, sulfur, etc. in the bitumen without affecting extraction performance.


  • Identify new breakthrough / step-out technologies to extract bitumen at lower cost / lower energy to the currently available warm water extraction technology for oil sands mining. Bitumen product must meet 300 ppmw solids spec (on a dry bitumen basis).

Online instrumentation

The focus is on the development of sensors and online monitoring technologies for smooth and robust commercial oil sands operations.

  • Identify process stream properties that are desirable to be measured and monitored in the oil sands operations.
  • Identify available sensing technologies as well as potential sensing technologies to meet the needs of industrial online measurements, monitoring, and process control.

List of priority items to focus on:

  • Faster bitumen/solids/water estimation in place of Dean-Stark analysis. The highest priority is on the online bitumen content determination in tailings and middlings slurries.
  • Large lump detection to improve crusher performance/reliability.
  • Metal detection upstream of the crusher.
  • Measurement tool for the size distribution of lumps downstream of the secondary/tertiary crushers and lump measurements in HT close to the PSC inlet to understand ablation.
  • Online viscosity measurement for PSC middlings layer.
  • Development of a clay analyzer, potentially in place of a fines analyzer.
  • Real-time asphaltene measurement of froth to enable better online control of paraffinic froth treatment (PFT).
  • Online slurry rheology.
  • Methods to determine clay or fines distribution within a cell, or in a subaqueous environment (for tailings deposition).

General comments for online instrumentation:

  • The research scope is between fundamental and prototyping, mostly aiming to solve problems.  The research projects are mostly about the early testing of a potential new technique.
  • Some of the current analyzers do not provide reliable and repeatable data. The parts failure rate is very high, and they require excessive maintenance.
  • Fouling is a major issue with probes (sensors) being used in oil sand applications.
  • Problems are caused by the accumulation of clays, bitumen, etc. Operating conditions are hash (wide temperature variations), so reliability and easy maintenance is important. New techniques should bear in mind the fouling possibility.
  • Erosion is very high in slurries because of sand, etc.

Online instrumentation

Value-added products

The emphasis of this theme is to generate value from various streams in oil sands operation. The current focus is on the value added processing of tailings from the Tailing Solvent Recovery Units (TSRU).

Problem Statement

Mined oil sands industry uses Paraffin Froth Treatment (PFT) process to separate bitumen from water and solids. The rejected tailing stream from the tailing solvent recovery unit (TSRU) of PFT contains about 75% water, 17% minerals, 6% asphaltenes, 1% maltenes, <0.1% paraffinic solvent. There are economic and environmental benefits to convert the TSRU stream into valuable products.

Technology and Knowledge Gaps

  • Methods/processes that can separate hydrocarbons (including asphaltenes and maltene) from the tailings, separate maltenes from asphaltenes, and convert asphaltenes to value-added products.
  • Fundamental science for multiphase stream processing such as clean separation of hydrocarbons from mineral surfaces.

Preferred Processes and Methods

  • New process concepts can consider dry (water removed) or wet TSRU as a feed.
  • Low-GHG emission, non-solvent approaches.
  • Chemical reactions (including bio) to enhance phase separation and product value.
  • Processing to minimize waste rejection.
  • Catalytic or non-catalytic reactions.
  • Co-processing with other feedstocks such as CHor biomass.

 Value-Added Products

  • Recovery of solvent or bitumen components (preferably boiling below 524 oC).
  • Solid carbon-based products such as graphitic carbon, and carbon black.
  • Feed for chemicals synthesis, mineral products.
  • Other (new) products with value.

Value-added products